Just returned from a whirlwind trip this past week to New York City.
In recent years most of my trips to New York included visits with my good friend Corky Garner who lived there for much of his adult life. Corky died in February, shortly after his 64th birthday, and I was returning to New York this time to spread Corky’s ashes in some of his favorite spots in Central Park, where Corky spent so much time a lot of time enthusiastically exploring and enjoying.
Corky’s friend (and his supervisor at the hospital where Corky worked as a nurse) met me for the ashes-spreading in the Park’s Conservatory Gardens and in several spots overlooking the Harlam Meer, a task which we finally accomplished around sundown on Tuesday – although not without being interrupted by a park worker who told us we weren’t allowed to do what we were doing.
I spent the next three days wandering dreamily about the city, bedazzled by the height of the autumn leaf-turning colors and a bit bewildered by the fact that Corky wasn’t there with me to enjoy the city’s thousands of eye-popping ginko trees.
During the four days I was in the city, I made pilgrimages to several places other than Central Park that Corky and I had visited more than once together: the Metropolitan Museum (where I gaped at the amazing artefacts on view in the Met’s newly-reopened Islamic art wing), the Morgan Library (which is exhibiting manuscripts and letters of Charles Dickens), the New York Public Library (where I plopped myself down in its magnificent Great Reading Room for a good-half-hour’s rest from my pavement-pounding adventures). I even managed to make my way again to the the spectacularly-sited Cloisters (a grouping of several monastic buildings imported from Europe by the Rockefeller foundation and reconstructed on a bluff above the Hudson River – and housing the Met’s collection of Medieval art).
I also revisited two fondly-remembered neighborhoods that I’d frequented during the magical summer of 1968, when I lived in New York and attended classes at Columbia University: the Upper West Side and Greenwich Village. On the final morning of my trip I revisited the Brooklyn Botanical Garden’s Japanese Garden, and explored for the first time Brooklyn’s Prospect Park and the adjacent Park Slope neighborhood. Other first-time New York experiences for me included walking the The High Line – an elevated park in the former Meatpacking District – which was far more spectacular than than I’d expected, and wandering through the farmers market in Union Square.
And the Brooklyn Bridge in the first photo above? Reader, I walked across it! (Something I’d long wanted to do but didn’t know if my fear of heights would allow me to.)
This was the first time I’d visited New York by myself, and the first time I’d been there in many, many years without meeting up with Corky. Except for the ashes-spreading ritual (and supper afterwards) with Corky’s friend Sue Ranalli and having lunch the following day with Trent Duffy (who coordinates a national gay/lesbian book award committee I served on last winter), I spent these four days on my own, following my whims about where to go and what to do (or to postpone for some future visit), alone with my thoughts and reactions to the relentless swirl of what I was seeing and hearing. It was a rich four days, and I can easily understand why Corky (and so many others!) chose to live in this amazing city.
Travel Tip: This was the third time I’ve stayed at the House of the Redeemer while visiting New York. Because it’s an Episcopal retreat center that rents out its rooms to tourists when they’re available, it isn’t required to charge sales tax, which makes the cost to stay there a mere $90 per night. The building is a converted Gilded-Age mansion at East 95th Street at Fifth Avenue – a block from Central Park and a main bus line, and about four blocks from the Lexington Avenue subway line. There are private one-person and double rooms available, some with private bathrooms (for an additional fee), plus a cozy common room on each floor, and even a fully-equipped kitchen – and a telephone – that guests can use. The building also contains a Renaissance-era library imported from Europe by the original owner, a chapel, and all the trappings (antique furniture, a cage-like, creaky elevator, etc.) of a European-style pensione. It’s amazingly quiet, and the staff are very friendly and helpful. I’ve enjoyed all my stays there, and highly recommend it.